THE MARK OF A MAN

I’m feeling nostalgic today as I honor the anniversary of my father’s death, which occurred on August 29, 1981, sometime around the noon hour. It was a beautiful late summer day in Michigan. The morning had been cloudy but when I stepped outside into the backyard at my parent’s home moments after he took his last the breath, the sun came out from behind the clouds and the child I carried in my womb moved inside of me for the first time. Thirty-six years disappear when I remember that day and when I remember my father.

I spent much of my time this summer compiling a collection of essays that represent my writing life over the past two decades when I began my writing career. It began with the publication of an essay about my mother’s hands six months after her death in 1998.

ECLECTIC LEANINGS finalOn September 5, 2017, Eclectic Leanings–Musings from a Writer’s Soul will be released on Amazon.

The Introduction to the book explains why I decided to publish my nonfiction (and several short stories) writings.

Excerpt from Eclectic Leanings

INTRODUCTION

Eclectic Leanings spans the length of my professional writing career. Most of the pieces were published in newspapers, magazines, and blogs from 1998-2017. For years, I wrote a column for small newspapers and regional magazines in Florida. Many of the essays come from my column, Another View, which won several awards. In 2012, I began writing several blogs, and many of those pieces also appear in this book.

Recently, while packing to move, I came across all my saved clippings. Many of them were only in hardcopy and hadn’t been saved electronically. I decided saving yellowing newsprint and fading magazines not only created more boxes to move, but it was a very unstable way to save some of my life’s work. Eclectic Leanings seemed to perfect way to preserve a digital copy of my nonfiction works. I hope readers enjoy a book where they can pick and choose to read whatever might be of interest.

I’ve also dabbled with short story writing over the years, so I’ve included a few of those that have survived. Unfortunately, several that I wrote twenty years ago are missing from my collection. Perhaps they will surface one day.

When I published my great grandfather’s Civil War journal several years ago, I realized the importance of recording our histories. His journal—which covers only three years of his life—and one photo are all that remain of this man. I have even less from his son, my grandfather. And I sorely yearn to know more about all my relatives. There is even less from my female ancestors.

It has been said that when a person dies, a library burns down. While this book is not my autobiography, it does give an indication of my beliefs, values, and passions. It represents one wing of the library of my life. I hope you’ll consider leaving behind a portion of your life’s library. Your progeny will be the beneficiaries.

If you should find even one of the offerings within these pages worth the read, I will be grateful. It has been a pleasure to put together Eclectic Leanings, which is truly a testament to my love of language and its power to express a gamut of emotions and portraits of life.

Patricia Camburn Zick, 2017

The book contains stories about my family, and in particular, essays about the life and death of my father, my first hero. Here’s one I wrote for my newspaper column on Father’s Day in 2002.

DadFather'sDay

My father on Father’s Day holding the tie I had made for him.

REMEMBERING MY FATHER NOT AS SUPERHERO, BUT AS A MAN

Published in The High Springs Herald, June 13, 2002

My father never leaped over tall buildings.

But he would have tried if I had asked him, and two decades after his death, he remains a hero to me.

But when I think of my father, even today, it is tinged with sadness because only in his dying moments did he come to the realization that what he had right in front of him made him a success in the eyes of those who mattered most.

In the days before his death, he knew he had only a short time left with us, and he made the most of those hours. He called my four brothers and me, along with his wife of forty-three years, into the dining room we had converted into his bedroom. The room, not more than nine-by-ten feet, could barely contain the hospital bed and the accoutrements of a dying man, let alone my tall brothers.

But he wanted us there, and he wanted us to touch him. All of us. I stood at the foot of the bed with one of my brothers. When my father saw us there, he lifted his head from the pillow with difficulty.

“You two down there, grab my big toes,” he commanded.

He then told us that he loved us all and always had. But he said he wished the rest of the family could be there. And he meant our spouses and his grandchildren. The only grandchild present that day was the one I carried inside of me, barely visible during the fourth month of my pregnancy.

I found out I was pregnant exactly one week after we found out my father had liver cancer. My first husband and I had been married only a year and hadn’t planned to start a family quite yet. But that was not to be.

In fact, I thought my nausea when my father received his death sentence was the result of my great sorrow as I contemplated losing my father, the first man in my life and in my heart.

The day I found out I was pregnant, we drove to the hospital immediately to give my father the news. He didn’t say too much but right after we told him, his cousin walked in the door.

“I’m going to have a granddaughter,” he told her.

From that moment on, I never considered that I was carrying anything but a little girl inside my womb. I told my father one day during his last summer—one month before he died—that I had picked out the name for the baby.

“We’re going to name her Anna, after your mother,” I said.

His eyes filled with tears, and he turned his head away from me. “I never cared for any girl’s name but Patricia Ann.” My name. And that was the last he ever talked about my pregnancy and his seventh grandchild.

At first, I was hurt by his refusal to talk about my child. But then I realized that my father’s refusal came from the very simple fact that he knew he would never see my daughter. He would be gone from this world before her birth.

After a few weeks in the hospital, we couldn’t bear walking into his room to find soiled sheets and food caked on his face, lying there all alone too weak to do anything. So, we decided to bring my father home to die. We took vacation time from our jobs, and we all stayed with our mother through his final weeks.

One day my father called me into the small room and asked me to read his favorite Psalm to him, the twenty-third. I needed help remembering, so I opened the Bible from his bedside table and began to read. I choked at times overcome with the beauty of the words and their meaning now that my father lay dying. When my voice faltered, my father’s voice came out strong and sure as he spoke the words from memory.

His pale face lay against the pillow, and with eyes closed, he said the Psalm in his old voice, the one before the cancer, the strong authoritative one. He gave me the strength to continue reading.

The year before, when I came home to tell my parents that I was getting married, they both hugged me and began talking excitedly about the wedding ceremony. I wanted to be married in my parents’ home in the garden where my mother grew flowers of extraordinary proportions.

My mother mentioned my father giving me away. And I, fresh out of college with newfound feminism beating on my consciousness, said, “I don’t belong to anyone. No one has the right to give me away.”

My father didn’t turn away fast enough for me to miss the bullet I shot through his heart. Never have I wished more that my tongue and brain worked in unison. However, I never regretted what I said on my next visit home.

“Dad, would you walk me out to the garden on my wedding day?” I asked.

My father never made a whole lot of money, and he never found a job that made him happy. But he always worked, and he kept a roof over our heads. And even though he slaved long hours for other people, he never forgot he was a father.

He attended every game my four brothers ever had a chance of playing during their high school years. And they played them all:  football, basketball, and baseball. Some of them wore out the courts and fields, and others wore out the benches. But my father attended every game, home and away.

And while my brothers will say that my father spoiled me, I will say that I always had my father on my side. When I was sixteen, I took my father’s 1962 Chevy station wagon out for the evening. Even when I came in the house and told my father the car had four flat tires, he never got mad at me.

“Must have been bad tires,” he said. “You don’t know how it happened?”

“No, Dad. I just heard something funny about a block from the house,” I told him.

I didn’t lie. I just didn’t confess that an hour earlier, with fifteen friends stuffed into the back, we’d taken a joy ride through a recently harvested cornfield. He never questioned me again, and I never told.

But two years later when I got my first car, he took me out to the driveway before he would let me drive away.

“Open the trunk,” he commanded. “Now you’re going to learn to change your own tire.”

And I did.

My hero. He never flew through the sky or changed clothes in a phone booth, but he didn’t have to do those things. He just had to be my dad.

ECLECTIC LEANINGS final

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Seven Years Since the Oil Spilled

Florida, BP oil spill, sea turtles

BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded seven years ago on April 20, 2010. I recently did a book signing for Trails in the Sandmy novel that uses the oil spill as the backdrop to the drama unfolding in one family. “The race to save wildlife from tar balls approaching Florida’s beaches runs parallel to a reporter’s quest to save her family from an equally disastrous end,” I explained to a potential customer.

The customer gave me a puzzled look. “What was Deepwater Horizon?” he asked. “I forget.”

Please don’t forget. We must hold behemoths such as BP accountable for their actions. What was Deepwater Horizon? It was a horror where eleven men died and untold damage was done to our wildlife and the environment. Please remember.

To honor the lives lost and the destruction created through neglect of safety procedures, click here to download Trails in the Sand for free on Kindle, April 17-21.

It may be a work of fiction, but the facts of the event are real.

Trails - Deepwater

Excerpt from Trails in the Sand

Caroline – April 20, 2010

Our paddles caressed the water without creating a ripple as we floated by turtles sunning on tree trunks fallen into the river. A great blue heron spread its wings on the banks and lifted its large body into the air, breaking the silence of a warm spring day in north Florida.

The heron led us down the river of our youth stopping to rest when we fell too far behind. The white spider lilies of spring covered the green banks of the Serenity Springs River.

“Do you remember the spot where we always swam?” my husband Simon asked. “Isn’t it around here?”

“I can’t remember back that far.”

Simon pulled his kayak up alongside mine as a mullet jumped out of the water in front of us and slapped its body back into the water.

“Still the dumbest fish in the river,” I said.

The leaves on the trees were fully green and returned to glory after a tough winter of frosts and freezes. Wild low-growing azalea bushes were completing their blooming cycle, and the dogwoods dropped their white blossoms a month ago. The magnolia flower buds would burst into large white blossoms within a month.

Simon and I missed the peak of spring on the river. However, we finally escaped our work on a warm Tuesday morning in late April.

“I hope things settle down. We should spend all summer on the river,” Simon said.

“Maybe we can get Jodi to come with us when she gets home from Auburn,” I said.

“Don’t count on it. Promise me you won’t be disappointed if she refuses.”

“I wish you wouldn’t be such a pessimist. That upsets me more than anything.”

Simon didn’t respond, which usually happened when I tried to talk about his daughter Jodi.

When we were kids, Simon and I spent many days in an old canoe on this river. Those idyllic days ended when he married my sister Amy. I never forgave Amy, even when she died two years ago. I eventually forgave Simon.

Even though I didn’t miss or mourn my sister, Jodi, my niece, did. She lost a mother she loved and believed Simon and I trampled her mother’s grave when we married nearly a year ago.

“At least winter is over,” Simon said. “Let’s hope for a quiet hurricane season.”

A turtle dove from a rock into the river as we approached. Either our voices or the sound of lapping water from our paddles sent it swimming. I was happy to note the freshwater turtles didn’t seem impacted by the atypical cold of the past few months. The sea turtles hadn’t fared so well.

I followed the sea turtle story for three months from the Gulf to the Atlantic coasts of Florida. The supreme effort to rescue cold-stunned turtles and rehabilitate them for release was overwhelming in its sheer numbers of both wildlife and volunteers. As an environmental and wildlife freelance writer, I’d written dozens of stories since January on the rescue and recovery operations. Miraculously, the majority of the stunned sea turtles survived. The past few weeks had seen many of them released back into the warming waters.

When Simon and I married the previous year, I vowed to curtail my traveling. But somehow, I hadn’t been able to keep my promise. Yet Simon never complained when I left our home in St. Augustine over the winter months as freezing temperatures caused iguanas to fall from trees, manatees to congregate near power plants, and sea turtles to become ice sculptures. He kept busy with the opening of his new law office, relocated from his previous home in Calico, sixty miles away. Just when the cold weather disappeared, and as I was finishing writing a series of articles on the cold winter’s impact, Simon left for West Virginia. On April 5, his cousin Jason McDermott was one of the twenty-nine coal miners killed when Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine exploded. Simon went home to West Virginia for the funeral. He stayed for more than a week helping Jason’s parents and his widow, who was pregnant with their third child. Until Simon and his family moved to Florida when he was fourteen, Jason had been his best friend. The two remained close over the years, and I knew Simon mourned his cousin’s death.

“I’m glad we’re playing hooky today,” Simon said. “It’s about time we made it back to the river.”

“Let’s keep floating until we reach the St. Johns River and then the Atlantic,” I said.

“Sounds like a plan as long as you don’t find any sea turtles to rescue along the way.”

“Don’t worry, Simon, I’ve got my hands full with you.”

####

The next morning the whir of the coffee grinder woke me. Simon always woke before me, and now he churned beans into grounds for our daily ritual. I savored that first sip of coffee every morning. Simon used only the darkest roast with an oily sheen. Every morning he brought me a steaming mug of the brew along with the morning papers. If my eyes weren’t open when he came into the room, he bent down and gently kissed me on the forehead.

“Good morning, baby,” he’d say, and I’d look up into his smiling face, his blue eyes twinkling a greeting. His eyes mirrored my own blue eyes. At one time, we both had blonde hair, but now with age, Simon’s had turned white while mine remained the same color of our youth, thanks to L’Oréal.

As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before the television and George Stephanopoulos diverted my attention.

It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George announced an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.

I flipped the channels to find more news. I heard about volcanic ash from a recently erupted volcano in Iceland that was costing airlines $1.7 billion from the loss in flights. The day before the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Another broadcaster announced the death toll from a recent earthquake in China now topped two thousand.

CNN reported that a former coal miner at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia decided to give an interview detailing the unsafe conditions at the mine prior to the explosion two weeks earlier. I made a mental note to tell Simon, who I was sure would want to learn more.

But nothing about a little oil rig burning in the middle of the ocean. Since the fire occurred the night before, the morning newspapers contained no reports.

I took another sip of coffee, trying to determine the level of my reporter’s barometric pressure climbing up the back of my neck.

“Were you listening to NPR in the kitchen?” I asked Simon as he came back to bed with his cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice.

“No. Why?”

“Just a curious little footnote to the news this morning, but I’ve only heard it on ABC so far,” I said. “It seems an oil rig caught on fire out in the Gulf last night. The report said eleven men are missing, but officials are confident the men are on lifeboats that haven’t been found yet because of the smoke on the water.”

“It sounds like it has the potential for a real disaster,” Simon said. “Or it’s nothing at all. I hope for the latter.”

“Me, too. They also said a former miner decided to do an interview about conditions at Upper Big Branch mine. That could be a very big story.”

“Let’s hope somebody says something. I heard all sorts of stories while I was in West Virginia, but nobody wanted to say anything publicly.”

I kept channel surfing. A couple of programs gave a brief account of the oil rig fire, but all agreed everything was under control. I hoped that was the case, but it bothered me when all the reports said the fire still burned. How did they have any idea what lay below the surface of that fire?

“Yesterday, April 20, was the eleventh anniversary of Columbine,” I said. “And the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day is tomorrow.”

“And the West Virginia explosion occurred on your mother’s birthday, April 5,” my husband said.

He knew very well I kept track of dates and wondered at the curiosity of so many significant occurrences in history coinciding with other dates important to those closest to me. In my family, birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths more often than not occurred on important historical dates. Two of my aunts had been born on December 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor—a day of infamy. My best friend Holly was born on Christmas Day, and my sister died on the Fourth of July just two years earlier.

“I guess I better make some calls,” I said. “I’m a little skeptical that all is well in the Gulf.”

“Getting one of those hunches?” Simon asked.

“My ears are starting to tingle, so I better listen.”

I wouldn’t say I was clairvoyant or possessed powers of prescience, but I had a journalist’s instinct for news whether I was dealing with my job as a freelance environmental writer or as a woman assessing a person’s intentions. I learned over the years to follow those instincts. First, I felt something akin to hair rising on my neck. However, when I felt the tingling in my ears that sent a shiver down my spine, I began to pay attention to every little detail. The skeptic in me was still simmering beneath the surface even though my marriage to Simon the year before took some of the sharper edges off the knife of my cynicism. Love works miracles, but my transformation was still a work in progress. For the sake of my career, that was probably a good thing. I needed to question everything, or I’d never have a story.

I wondered where to start finding out about the fire. For nearly three decades, I made my living by writing about the environment and wildlife, with human interest thrown in the mix. One of the most recent stories took me to the Panhandle of Florida where a bear wandered into a residential neighborhood only to be darted with a tranquilizer by a wildlife biologist with the state wildlife agency. The drugged bear stumbled into the Gulf of Mexico before collapsing from the tranquilizer. The biologist wanted to knock the bear out temporarily, not drown him. He swam out to rescue the unconscious animal, dragging it back to shore. Photos of the rescue taken by a resident went around the world.

I wrote investigative pieces about illegal dumping of hazardous waste in rivers in far too many places in the United States. I wrote about environmental disasters and crimes whenever I received a tip from my sources that I’d cultivated and coddled over decades of trying to find the perfect quote. I wrote a story a few years back about a wildlife CSI lab in Oregon. I traveled across the country for stories filled with dramatic flourishes that somehow touched lives. I waded through the swamps of the Everglades hunting the invasive Burmese python, and I followed a group of camel traders in the deserts of Morocco, all in pursuit of the story.

When Simon came back into my life, I made the decision to give our marriage my full attention. I curtailed the scope of my writing, concentrating on stories from the southeastern Atlantic coast.

“Just when I thought our lives might settle down,” Simon said. He sat on the edge of the bed and flipped through the pages of the newspaper.

“You and I will never settle down. It’s our karma to be perpetually stirred up.” I leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

#DeepwaterHorizon-Using Reality in Fiction

 

Deepwater Horizon, BP oil spill

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

They’ve now made a movie about Deepwater Horizon (Click here to see the trailer). I heard an interview with the director, Peter Berg, and he said he didn’t focus the movie on the environmental impact but on the human lives lost. That’s good because the explosion on that oil rig killed eleven men. This tragedy could have been prevented.

I began writing Trails in the Sand in the months after Deepwater Horizon and the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed twenty-nine miners. Forty deaths within two weeks of one another pushed me to write something that might serve as a reminder of two preventable disasters that occurred within two weeks of one another in 2010. Forty men died and countless wildlife and their habitats were injured or destroyed. Both events touched my life in some way and both made their way into the writing of Trails in the Sand.

The first tragedy occurred on April 5 when the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia exploded, killing twenty-nine miners doing their job in the bowels of the earth. Subsequent reports showed the company ignored safety regulations, which played an important role in the explosion. At the time, I was in the process of moving from Florida to western Pennsylvania. The mine is several hours south of where I moved so the local media covered the disaster continually for the next few weeks. The national news also kept its eye turned toward a small town in West Virginia where families mourned their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins. After April 20, the lens of the cameras shifted to the southwest.

The news began as a whimper before erupting into cries of outrage. An oil rig somewhere off the coast of Louisiana caught on fire on April 20, 2010. Soon the whole rig collapsed and eleven men never made it out alive. Oil gushed from a well several miles below the Gulf’s surface.

As I made the transition to Pennsylvania, I still held my job in Florida, although I was in the process of leaving. I was a public relations director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I made the trip back and forth between the two states sixteen times in 2010. I conducted meetings from a cell phone in airports, highway rest areas, and at a dining room table from our small temporary apartment in Pittsburgh.

aptopix-gulf-oil-spill-1fee0422a0df6673Every time I started to give my two-week notice to my supervisors, something happened, and my wildlife biologist bosses pleaded with me to stay. During a crisis, the spokesperson for a company or agency suddenly becomes a very important part of the team. Scientists become speechless when looking in the face of a microphone. And all their scientific facts and figures must be distilled into sound bites for the public.

Nothing much happened in those early days of the oil spill for the wildlife community, although as a communications specialist, I prepared for worst-case scenarios, while hoping for the best. Partnerships between national and state agencies formed to manage information flowing to the media. By May, some of the sea turtle experts began worrying about the nesting turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, right where the still gushing oil might land. In particular, the scientists worried that approximately 50,000 hatchlings might be walking into oil-infested waters if allowed to enter the Gulf of Mexico after hatching from the nests on the Gulf beaches.sargassum-oil-deepwater-horizon

 

 

An extraordinary and unprecedented plan became reality, and as the scientists wrote the protocols, the plan was “in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.”

When the nests neared the end the incubation period, plans were made to dig up the nests and transport the eggs across the state to Cape Canaveral, where they would be stored until the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. Then they would receive a royal walk to the sea away from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf.

seaturtle7

The whole project reeked with the scent of drama, ripe for the media to descend on Florida for reports to a public hooked on the images of oiled wildlife. Since I was in transition in my job, they appointed me to handle all media requests that came to the national and state agencies regarding the plan. From my new office in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, I began coordinating media events and setting up interviews with the biologists.

As the project began in June 2010, I began writing Trails in the Sand. At first, I created the characters and their situations. Then slowly I began writing about the oil crisis and made the main character, Caroline, an environmental reporter who covered the sea turtle relocation project. Then suddenly I was writing about her husband, Simon, who mourned the loss of his cousin in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. I didn’t make a conscious effort to tie together the environmental theme with the family saga unfolding, but before too long, I realized they all dealt with restoration and redemption of things destroyed. As a result, the oil spill and the sea turtles became a metaphor for the destruction caused by Caroline and her family.

I’m a firm believer in the subject choosing the author. When that happens, it’s best to let go and enjoy the gift. Trails in the Sand became a novel sometimes classified as “faction” because it combines real-world events with fictional characters and situations. I have written nearly twenty novels since 1999, and of all of them, Trails in the Sand remains the one closest to my heart. Because the subject chose me, the words came easily and the characters became an extension of my family.

I wish the disasters never occurred. But I can’t wave a wand and erase the past. But with strokes on the keyboard, I can create something lasting that might make a difference. At the very least, I made that attempt. And so did the director of Deepwater Horizon, which releases today. We need all the reminders possible so we never repeat the events of April 2010 again.

Florida, BP oil spill, sea turtles

Excerpt from Trails in the Sand

Chapter One – Caroline

The next morning the whir of the coffee grinder woke me as Simon churned beans into grounds for our daily ritual. I savored that first sip of coffee every morning. Simon used only the darkest roast with an oily sheen. Every morning he brought me a steaming mug of the brew along with the morning papers. If my eyes weren’t open when he came into the room, he bent down and gently kissed me on the forehead.

“Good morning, baby,” he’d say, and I’d look up into his smiling face, his blue eyes twinkling a greeting. His eyes mirrored my own blue eyes. At one time, we both had blonde hair, but now with age, Simon’s had turned white while mine remained the same color of our youth, thanks to L’Oreal.

As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before the television and George Stephanopoulos diverted my attention.

It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George said an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.

As I flipped the channels to find more news, I learned that volcanic ash from a recently erupted volcano in Iceland was costing airlines $1.7 billion to combat the loss in flights. The day before the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Matt Laurer announced the death toll after the April 14 earthquake in China now topped 2,000.

CNN reported that a former coal miner at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia decided to give an interview detailing the unsafe conditions at the mine prior to the explosion two weeks earlier.

But nothing more on a little oil rig burning in the middle of the ocean. Since the fire occurred the night before, the morning newspapers contained no reports.

I took another sip of coffee, trying to determine the level of my reporter’s barometric pressure climbing up the back of my neck.

“Were you listening to NPR in the kitchen?” I asked Simon as he came back to bed with his cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice.

“No. Why?”

“Just a curious little footnote to the news this morning, but I’ve only heard it on ABC so far,” I said. “It seems an oil rig caught on fire out in the Gulf last night. The report said eleven men are missing, but officials are confident the men are on lifeboats that haven’t been found yet because of the smoke on the water.”

“It sounds like it has the potential for a real disaster,” Simon said.

“They also said a former miner decided to talk about conditions at Upper Big Branch mine,” I said. “Sure wish I could have gotten that interview.”

A couple of the channels gave a brief account of the oil rig fire, but all agreed everything was under control. I hoped that was the case, but it bothered me when all the reports said the fire still burned. How did they have any idea what lay below the surface of that fire?

“Yesterday, April 20, was the eleventh anniversary of Columbine,” I said. “And the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day is tomorrow.”

“And the West Virginia explosion occurred on your mother’s birthday, April 5,” my husband said.

He knew very well I kept track of dates and wondered at the curiosity of so many significant occurrences in history coinciding with other dates important to those closest to me. In my family, birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths more often than not occurred on important historical dates. Two of my aunts had been born on December 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor – a day of infamy. My best friend Holly was born on Christmas Day, and my sister died on the Fourth of July just two years earlier.

“I guess I better make some calls,” I said. “I’m a little skeptical that all is well in the Gulf.”

“Getting one of those hunches?” Simon asked.

“My ears are starting to tingle, so I better listen.”

I wouldn’t say I was clairvoyant or possessed powers of prescience, but I had a journalist’s instinct for news whether I was dealing with my job as a freelance environmental writer or as a woman assessing a person’s intentions. I learned over the years to follow those instincts. First, I felt something akin to hair rising on my neck. However, when I felt the tingling in my ears that sent a shiver down my spine, I began to pay attention to every little detail. The skeptic in me was still simmering beneath the surface even though my marriage to Simon the year before took some of the sharper edges off the knife of my cynicism. Love works miracles, but my transformation was still a work in progress. For the sake of my career, that was probably a good thing. I needed to question everything, or I’d never have a story.

I wondered where to start finding out about the fire. For nearly three decades, I made my living by writing about the environment and wildlife, with human interest thrown in the mix. One of the most recent stories took me to the Panhandle of Florida where a bear wandered into a residential neighborhood only to be darted with a tranquilizer by a wildlife biologist with the state wildlife agency. The drugged bear stumbled into the Gulf of Mexico before collapsing from the tranquilizer. The biologist wanted to knock the bear out temporarily, not drown him. He swam out to rescue the unconscious animal, dragging it back to shore. Photos of the rescue taken by a resident went around the world.

I wrote investigative pieces about illegal dumping of hazardous waste in rivers in far too many places in the United States. I wrote about environmental disasters and crimes whenever I received a tip from my sources that I’d cultivated and coddled over decades of trying to find the perfect quote. I wrote a story a few years back about a wildlife CSI lab in Oregon. I traveled across the country for stories filled with dramatic flourishes that somehow touched lives. I waded through the swamps of the Everglades hunting the invasive Burmese python, and I followed a group of camel traders in the deserts of Morocco, all in pursuit of the story.

When Simon came back into my life, I made the decision to give our marriage my full attention. I curtailed the scope of my writing, concentrating on stories from the southeastern Atlantic coast.

“Just when I thought our lives might settle down,” Simon said as he sat on the edge of the bed, flipping through the newspapers.

“You and I will never settle down. It’s our karma to be perpetually stirred up,” I said as I leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek.

trails-deepwater

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#Garden Abundance

IMG_0716It’s a good thing we took a break this week because, by Friday, the refrigerator and countertops overflowed with zucchini, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, peppers, and carrots! Time to get to work.

Normally, I try to spread it out over a few days, but I decided since I’m between writing projects that I’d take one day and devote to the preserving the produce.

I started with a new recipe. Zucchini Blueberry Bread. The local market called me this week to tell me local blueberries were in, and they’d saved two gallons for me. After freezing two large gallon bags for use in smoothies, I still had a full container and zucchini in the crisper. After researching online for recipes combining the two, I finally found one that I could modify for our tastes and preferences. So here it is! I’ll be adding it to the next edition of From Seed to Table, but until then here it is.IMG_0765

Zucchini Blueberry Bread

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup oil

1 cup maple syrup

3 cups, zucchini (unpeeled and grated in food processor)

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp almond extract

3 cups flour (I used 2 cups unbleached white, 1 cup whole wheat – personal preference)

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp allspice

4 cups fresh blueberries

Directions:

  1. Add oil, syrup, vanilla, almond extract, and zucchini to beaten eggs.
  2. Sift dry ingredients and add to batter.
  3. Fold in blueberries.
  4. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour to one hour, fifteen minutes until toothpick comes out cleanly.
  6. Cool on rack. Bread freezes very nicely.

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We had it for breakfast this morning, and it’s very moist and delicious. I modify recipes to reduce the oil usually suggested. Then I add more zucchini because if I’m making zucchini bread, chances are I have enough to spare.

IMG_0770My husband picked the first cabbage yesterday along with a few lovely carrots. Nothing else to do but make some cole slaw. I used the recipe for freezing slaw originally from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preservingmodified for my book, From Seed to Table. When I first saw this recipe, I was skeptical, but in our family, it has a proven track record!

Here’s the recipe from From Seed to Table:

Cole slaw to freeze

This is a wonderful way to preserve all that fresh cabbage. Once thawed, add mayonnaise to taste. The flavors are even better in this slaw when thawed than when fresh, even if the cabbage wasn’t as crisp.

1 large head of cabbage, shredded

3 large carrots, grated

1 large onion, chopped

1 tsp salt

1 ½ cup sugar

1 tsp dried mustard

1 cup white vinegar

½ cup water

Combine all vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let mixture stand for one hour. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil and boil for three minutes. Cool. Ladle over vegetables and stir together. Place mixture in freezer bags or containers and place in freezer. We like our slaw with a little bit of mayonnaise so I add about a tablespoon to each two-serving bag when it’s unthawed. If you like an all-vinegar slaw, you don’t have to do anything except thaw the slaw when you’re ready to eat it.

We saved back some for dinner last night, and it was tart and biting, which we like. The freezer will mellow some of that.

Finally, we put together our pasta sauce, using the method and recipe from our book, which brings me to one final thing!

Normally, From Seed to Table  is $3.99 to download on Kindle, but through July 25, you can grab it for only $0.99. The book also comes in paperback. Check it out!

 

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What’s growing in your garden? What’s going on at your local farmers’ market?

 

 

 

 

CUKES & ZUCS – GARDEN MADNESS HAS BEGUN

 

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June 23, 2016

Suddenly, I’ve been thrown into overdrive in the kitchen attempting to preserve the produce starting to accumulate. The past two days found me dealing with the cucumber and zucchini madness happening right outside my door.

 

Yesterday, I decided I had enough cucumbers to do seven quarts of kosher dill pickles.

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Kosher Dills

Wrong. I had enough to do almost twice that many, but my canner only holds seven. So today I used the rest to make my bread and butter pickle chips.

 

So far, the zucchini is under control, but still three good sized ones made four loaves of zucchini bread, which will be great for when we have visitors later this summer. Nothing beats coffee, fresh fruit and zucchini bread for an easy summer breakfast.

 

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Zucchini Bread

 

 

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The Leftovers

 

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Bread & Butter

 

 

The tomatoes are starting to produce–mostly small varieties–but my husband tried a new variety this year, Black Brandywine. It’s gorgeous. Only two have been brought to the windowsill. We plan to eat them plain with salt to savor the taste, which hopefully will be as wonderful as their deep burgundy color.

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Black Brandywine

 

From Seed to Table by P.C. Zick

Walnut Date Zucchini Bread

4 eggs

3 cups flour

¾ cup maple syrup

2 cups buttermilk (use regular milk and add 1 tsp vinegar)

¾ cup chopped walnuts

¾ cup chopped dates or raisins

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp cloves

3 cups shredded zucchini, drained

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking soda

¾ tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

Mix together all ingredients until blended. Place in two greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until brown on top and toothpick inserted comes out clean.

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THE MEANING OF #MEMORIAL DAY

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Decoration Day, which we’ve come to call Memorial Day, began in 1866 as a way to honor those who fought and died in the Civil War (1861-1865). Until 1971, it was celebrated on May 30. Now we celebrate it on the last Monday of May, usually as a way to start the summer season rather than a way of honoring our fallen soldiers. This year the official Memorial Day falls on the original date of May 30.

When I was young, growing up in a small Michigan town, the day began solemnly with the high school band leading a parade from the high school to the cemetery where a 21-gun salute honored all of our fellow citizens who fought in all the wars since the Civil War. The veterans handed out paper poppies which symbolized the original Decoration Days when women would decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers. Then we marched back to the high school where another civic group handed out ice cream bars, and that’s when the official partying began with backyard barbecues and frisbee tossing. By starting the day at the cemetery, we all knew what we were celebrating.

This weekend, I’m celebrating the holiday with a remembrance of my great grandfather who fought in the war as a Union soldier and rendered his account of the horrors of fighting against fellow countrymen in his journal that I published in 2013. The book is available in paperback and audible formats, as well as Kindle. This week, May 28-June 4, the book may be downloaded for only $0.99 on Amazon.

Here’s an excerpt from the journal of Harmon Camburn who I’m proud to call my great grandfather. In this particular section, he details his company’s actions during the Battle of Fair Oaks.

The Battle of Fair Oaks (AKA Seven Pines – May 31-June 1, 1862

May 31 – Orders came for us to report to General Kearney at Seven Pines Tavern. Without delay, we were on the move. Before we reached the stage road, one of those sudden storms peculiar to the south burst upon us without warning. The sky grew dark. Then quickly came sheets of livid flame, followed by deafening crashes of thunder. In another moment, sluices of water began to pour. Darkness became so intense that nothing could be seen except by the blinding, hissing, crackling flashes of lightning. The scene was one of terrific grandeur, but exposed to its fury as we were, it was not pleasant. Some gained the partial shelter of the trees. Others could not make head against the flood and were forced to stand and take it where they were. In half an hour, this cloudburst was a thing of the past. The only evidence that it had been was the distant detonation of thunder and the lake of muddy water in which we stood over our shoe tops.

As soon as the storm swept by, we marched away in pursuit of orders. Then there broke upon our ears rapid explosions of thunder that we knew too well were not from heaven, followed by an unsteady roll that we knew was not the reverberation of thunder along the clouds. To our experienced ears, it was the sound of deadly strife.

Then came fugitives from the front, saying that Casey’s division which was in the advance had been surprised at Fair Oaks station and “All cut to pieces.” As with increased pace and quickened pulse we pushed forward, the number of fugitives increased and all had the same cry. “We’re all cut to pieces.” To say that our little band felt no misgivings in the face of this wild rout would not be true. Thoughts of Bull Run forced themselves upon us, but when did the 2nd Michigan fail to report wherever they were ordered. Straining toward the front, we met the lion-hearted, firm and true General Heintzelman at a point where the swamp and creek came close together within forty rods. This hair-lipped old general demanded, “What are these and where are you going?” Being told that we were two companies of the 2nd Michigan going to report to General Kearney, he ordered, “Deploy across this muck and stop these stragglers or kill them.” Instantly, the movement was begun at double quick and in another moment, we were facing the mob of excited, terrified men, some hatless, from they knew not what, while the spent balls from the enemy was stimulating their speed.

To stay this tide was to us a harder task than to fight the enemy. They were our friends, and we did not want to hurt them. By the sounds from the front, we knew that our men who had not been stampeded were bravely holding the rebels in check. These men must be made to turn and help them. At first, it required rough treatment and some received wounds here that had escaped unscathed at the front, but when the tide was once stayed, a peremptory order to “Fall in,” enforced by the point of the bayonet, backed by a loaded musket was obeyed without resistance. Each had his story to tell, to which we would not listen. Officers and men alike insisted that “We’re all cut to pieces” and “I am the only man left of my regiment.”

Officers and men resorted to various subterfuges and tricks to get past our line. Two men carrying their brave and esteemed captain, with both legs tied up with handkerchiefs, were stopped to examine the captain’s wounds. When the bandages were removed, no wounds were to be found. Men with heads, bodies, legs, and arms tied up were detected in the cheat and put into the ranks. A colonel of a New York regiment with two men carrying him desired to push through. We sent the men to the ranks, but passed the colonel. He was dead-drunk. We dumped his carcass on the ground in the swamp as of no use. One by one, seven color bearers drifted back to us with their colors and the declaration that they alone had escaped with the colors, the others were “all cut to pieces.” The phrase “cut to pieces” became a joke and many an officer in splendid uniform was asked to take off his clothes and show where he was cut. Some officers were indignant that their rank was not respected, and that private soldiers dared to prevent their passing, but a look into the muzzle of a loaded musket with a resolute eye behind it inclined them to waive their rights for this once. By stationing the various regimental colors in different parts of the field, and directing the men to assemble around their own colors, we rallied seven good-sized regiments of live men that were not “cut to pieces.” We kept our line all night, part of the men sleeping at a time. Our duty had been a very unpleasant one, but we were assured that it was very important.

June 1 – Early in the morning we joined our regiment on the battlefield. Seven companies of the regiment were in the thickest of the fight and lost heavily in killed and wounded, and Colonel Poe had his horse shot under him. Richardson’s division was already pushing the enemy, and long before noon, the lost ground was regained. This two-day battle was called by both names – Fair Oaks and Seven Pines, the fighting being done between a railroad station of the former name and a country tavern of the latter. (The aggregate loss to Union and Confederate – killed 3,690, wounded 7,524, prisoners 2,322.)

[Fair Oaks or Seven Pines, May 31-June 1, 1862, with the total killed, wounded, or captured now recorded as 13,736.]

Purchase Links for Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier

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THE FIRST SALAD OF THE SEASON – #GARDENLOVE

IMG_0648We rolling in lettuce right now. Radishes are beautiful and tasty, too. My husband planted a variety of radishes, and the taste differences are subtle, but none of them are bitter as sometimes happens with older radishes.

I’m amazed at how fast the garden is growing. I’ll soon be pulling down the canning equipment from the attic and buying new jars to put up sauces, pickles, and relishes. I didn’t pack our canning jars from Pittsburgh — too much to move as it was. Time to stock up on freezer bags, too, for peas and beans that will surely come on quickly and soon.

The photo on the left was taken March 20, and the one of the right I took this morning, May 5. It’s a lovely, yet shocking, surprise. I guess my northern gardener adapted to gardening in the mountains with ease.

The bed with straw on top in the photo on the right is planted with approximately twenty-eight asparagus plants that arrived via mail the other day. We have to wait two years to enjoy their bounty.

Today, he’s building the last of the beds, and I’ve asked him to hold off on planting anything there. Fat chance. He has winter squash in pots ready for the ground. At least, I won’t have to deal with preserving those because they should store all winter long once harvested.

We went to the local farmer’s market on Saturday to see what others were offering in local food. They had about the same things we did. I should look into getting my own table at the market for later this spring.

How’s your gardening growing?

 

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From Seed to Table is FREE on Kindle through May 7, 2016. Grab your copy by clicking on photo or if you’d prefer the paperback, click here.